Musical

IN THE HEIGHTS: Strength in Community

Blackout Theatre Company consistently delivers high quality, committed, accessible musical productions and IN THE HEIGHTS playing at The Joan in Penrith does not disappoint. It’s a strong, dynamic show with captivating leads, excellent choreography and dancing from the ensemble and colour galore in the costuming. Add to this some lovely voices and a Pulitzer Prize nominated text and audiences are guaranteed a terrific night at the theatre.

IN THE HEIGHTS has music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda and a book by Quiara Alegría Hudes. Miranda began the work as a sophomore in college, was headhunted to Broadway and in its final form the show would be nominated for 9 Drama Desk and 13 Tony Awards. Miranda might go down in theatre history for the success of HAMILTON but this earlier work is a favourite for community theatres.

We meet Usnavi, a bodega owner in Washington Heights NYC. He will be our guide to his neighbourhood and its people. A mainly Hispanic-American suburb, the community is being squeezed. Higher rents are affecting shop owners and the young people are wanting to move out and up to a new type of living. The close-knit community is under social and financial pressure. Usnavi knows this well as we see him chasing away a graffiti artist from his struggling business.

Usnavi is played by Anthony Chester who is a warm and gracious host. With a welcoming physicality, he moves so well around the large stage and his contact with the audience is genuine and sincere. Plus, his vocal work is excellent given that he has so much rap inspired, poetry resonant dialogue around the music. But he can belt when he needs to. ‘Hundreds of Stories’ his duet with Abuela Claudia was my favourite scene of this production.

Tongued tied and crippled by embarrassment he has an eye for Vanessa but needs the help of Sonny to make a move. Sonny (Jerome Varlet) plays the role with a mischievous, naughty and ultimately insightful enthusiasm. Varlet is obviously a crowd favourite and his direct-to-the-audience cheekiness is both winning and laugh out loud fun.

Marika Zorlu is Vanessa, a young woman with an eye to a better future. What a charismatic performer, even with a phone glued to her ear she lights up the stage every entry. A triple threat, Zorlu is sexy and sassy and just a delight to watch. With a killer voice and killer moves she owns this role.

As does Nicole Harwood playing the other female lead, Nina. Harwood’s fine voice combines with very good acting to give Nina delightful presence. Nina has been forced by economics to drop out of Stanford and Harwood’s solo work in ‘Breathe’ early in the show really endears Nina to the audience, allowing them to take her journey with her. She not only nails the challenging music but, with support of a great lighting effect, gives a strong insight into Nina’s loneliness and how lost she feels. That kind of longing is very hard to put across without seeming too doe-eyed and Harwood has it just right. She matures Nina through the show and her lovely duet with Benny caps off a very enjoyable performance.

Nina’s love interest, Benny (Douglas Bryant) took a while to settle his opening night nerves but by the time he is on the balcony with Nina after interval for ‘Sunrise’ their voices blend beautifully and they are the perfect couple. We see Benny’s aspirational and romantic nature without his being soppy and we are rooting for the young lovers who are battling her parents for acceptance.

Nina’s parents are Camilla Rosario (Katie Griffiths) and Kevin Rosario (John Hanna). Their relationship is well expressed and as Griffiths grows into the role, she has a lovely rapport with her daughter. Her wise understanding of the father-daughter relationship is heart-warming in ‘Atencion’ towards the end of the piece. Hanna’s Rosario has immigrant bravado and machismo yet his solo ‘Inutil: Useless’ touches anyone who has ever doubted themselves.

Two minor cast members who are doing a major job in this production are Irene Toro as Daniela, the owner of a beauty salon, and her employee Carla (Emma Joseph). These pair are obviously having a great time and its highly infectious. Joseph is a funny and ditzy character and Toro is big and brassy and totally lovable with excellent comic timing. As the Piragua Guy, Stephen Helies has some engaging cameo appearances, too, as does Daniel Lavercombe’s Graffitti Pete.

The heart of the production, though, is Abuela Claudia played by Koren Beale successfully stepping away from her conductor’s baton for this show. Aided by occasional brass and percussion, her Sprechgesang and singing in the powerful solo ‘’Pacience Y Fe: Patience and Faith” is a showstopper. Desperations past and the possibility of dreams made real are clearly expressed across the footlights. Terrific audio mixing here too with just enough subtle reverb to bring home the import of the scene without destroying her superb lower notes. She is sage and whole-hearted … and funny!

One of the great strengths of this production is the belief and personability of the cast. They travel downstage and speak to the audience, of their dreams, of their worries and of their past. Director Cierwen Newell has directed these moments skilfully. It’s a big space but her direction has them encompassing the whole audience and drawing us in. Plus, there is always a story in the byplay and interactions of the ensemble, especially in the nightclub scene.

I was particularly impressed with her work in ‘Alabanza’ and ‘Everything I Know’ where the pathos could be ramped to make the sequences maudlin and overly sentimental. In Newell’s hands, a simple, moderate approach and three stellar performances foreground dignity to provide the emotional impact without melodrama. Clever groupings, live candles (rather than ugly battery ones) and the use of a lighting state with spots rather than a stage wash are excellent creative choices.

IN THE HEIGHTS also has excellent creative work from Musical Director James McLanders and his band. I get sick of complaining that the music is too loud so it’s a relief not having to say so for this production. The band is kept under the performers: quietly carrying the emotion in the background, gently supporting the onstage work. There’s nicely focussed brass behind the first song to get the audience toe-tapping and the music only gets better from there. I loved the carhorn joke in Benny’s first scene and especially the woodblock intro rather than shakers into ‘It Won’t Be Long Now’. They can be big when they need to though. The riot was vibrant and frenetic!

The set design really gets out of the way of the cast too. I’m so pleased that Blackout avoided hiring the Melbourne backdrop that everyone seems to use and went with a bespoke set which evocatively and practically expresses the required urban decay. And leaves a huge area for the exciting choreography (Daniel Lavercombe). Slow or at a run, low and high, legs astride or crossed leg turns the dancing is action packed and the Latin and Hip-Hop blend is great fun to watch. The song ‘96000’ is such a joyful experience.

And it’s not just the big numbers, each character has Latin moves and shakes and gestures which pull the production into a united place. As does the costuming. Short skirts and tops tied around waists contrasted with a lovely black and red palette in formal dresses combining ease of movement and character on display. The production is rounded out by a great audio mix (Kieran Vella).

If the community of IN THE HEIGHTS are standing strong at the finale of the show, so too are Blackout Theatre Co. And this strong production is a great way for them to cap off an exciting year and for you to have a really enjoyable night out. IN THE HEIGHTS is playing at The Joan, Penrith until 28th October.

For more about In The Heights, visit  http://www.blackouttheatre.com.au/

MIRACLE CITY @ THE STUDIO, SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE

MIRACLE CITY was first produced in Sydney in 1996 and after brief, bright flame of 4 weeks flickered out as the creative forces behind it moved on. Written by the late Nick Enright with music from Max Lambert (who is Musical Director for this production), the original director was Gale Edwards. Did I see Edwards and original cast member Genevieve Lemon in the crowd tonight? This production was  spoken of in legendary terms yet it was interesting to note there were plenty of excitable tweets coming from opening night audience members repeating the precept that MIRACLE CITY was previously ‘undiscovered’.

Offering this production up for fresh discovery is Darren Yap, directing again after a sell-out season at Hayes Theatre in October 2014. He worked as Enright’s assistant in 1997 when a modified version was produced for WAAPA.

Credibility galore so far. Add to this line-up, a stellar cast, high production values, uniform excellence in the voices and you have a show which is sure to please.

It is the 1990s at the height of the Televangelist craze that will come crashing down as scandals and swindles come to light. MIRACLE CITY plays out in real time as the Truswells, a family of faith, prepare and present their live-to-air “Ministry of Miracles”. Father Ricky, Mother Lora Lee, 16 year old daughter Loretta and younger son Ricky-Bob are excited that prestigious pastor Millard Sizemore is their guest on today’s show. Continue reading MIRACLE CITY @ THE STUDIO, SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE

MOSMAN MUSICAL SOCIETY PRESENTS ‘URINETOWN’ @  ZENITH THEATRE, CHATSWOOD

 

Under the inspired direction of Kenney Ogilvie, the current production by Mosman Musical Society  is the darkly satirical URINETOWN.

The Zenith Theatre has been transformed into a darkly menacing city, where a terrible water shortage, caused by a 20-year drought, has led to a government-enforced ban on private toilets in a world wracked by ecological disaster. The citizens are required to use public amenities, all managed by a single malevolent company, the Urine Good Company (UGC) that avariciously profits, led by Caldwell Cladwell, by charging admission for one of humanity’s most basic needs. It is supported by a corrupt government and police force.

Amongst the struggling people, who have run out of patience, money and hope, our hero Bobby Strong, one of our valiant star crossed lovers, decides that he’s had enough, and plans a revolution to lead them all to freedom! Does he survive?  Can he make the town great again?

Inspired by the works of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill URINETOWN satirizes politics, capitalism, the legal system, bureaucracy, social irresponsibility, populism, and corporate mismanagement in a production very relevant to our current times  Continue reading MOSMAN MUSICAL SOCIETY PRESENTS ‘URINETOWN’ @  ZENITH THEATRE, CHATSWOOD

UNSW MTS PRESENTS JASON ROBERT BROWN’S ‘THE LAST 5 YEARS!’ @ STUDIO ONE UNSW

The University of New South Wales Musical Theatre Society (MTS) is presenting the show THE LAST 5 YEARS! at Studio One on campus from the 1st – 5th of August.

This musical by Jason Robert Brown tells a story of shattered love, time and dreams , depicting the fragility of relationships and love over its  unique timeline.

MTS says that it has come up with a great cast which will do the show justice. The production will star Lily Stokes as Cathy Hyatt and Jack Dawson as Jamie Wellerstein.

Tickets can be booked at  https://www.trybooking.com/QRKF

Producer: Tash Atkins
Director: Kate Cameron
Musical Directors: Yasmin Stelling and Alexander Mau

For more about UNSW MTS Presents: The Last 5 Years, visit https://www.trybooking.com/QRKF
Find us on: YouTube | Facebook

THE TALE OF ICHABOD SCRUBB @ THE BLOOD MOON THEATRE

Ichabod loses his sister, and on the journey to find her, Faces his biggest fear – water.

Assisted by an senile knight who refuses to take off his armour, an all knowing barge captain and a bucket-wielding water-thief, Ichabod traverses swamps, ravines and crosses bridges and cities in his quest for his sister. The tale follows Ichabod’s journey to find what he’s really looking for – love, hope and above all, courage. Continue reading THE TALE OF ICHABOD SCRUBB @ THE BLOOD MOON THEATRE

PACKEMIN PRESENTS CATS @ THE CONCOURSE, CHATSWOOD

Production photography by Grant Leslie.

Meow. Aurilophiles rejoice! The Concourse at Chatswood at the moment is alive with cats – oozing rivers of them, exploring, crawling , stretching, entwining around your feet…

Yes, this is the much loved Andrew Lloyd Webber musical based on TS Elliot’s poems in a very impressive staging. The cast perform with power, passion and commitment. Cameron Boxall and Kira Nelson’s choreography is based on and generally sticks to the original; snazzy, tight,  and demanding.

The production featured a HUGE cast of cats (and kittens. We saw the red cast opening night).  At a couple of points – especially for the mega production numbers – the stage was overcrowded, with cast even overflowing onto the side of the stage.

Packemin’s version, directed by Craig Stewart, is a vibrant production, subtly nuanced with delicately, joyous scenes contrasted with poignant, heart breaking ones.

The deceptively simple scaffolding set with its use of projections (a fabulous moon, trains for Skimbleshanks, a delightful major Asian harbour for Growltiger and Griddlebone) is not the standard dumpster site but is extremely effective.

The thrilling, atmospheric lighting by James Wallis was splendid.

The orchestra under the baton of maestros Peter Hayward and Alex Ash, hidden from the public eye, was in fine form.  There was no acknowledgement at the curtain call- a little disappointing.

Audrey Currie’s multi layered, variously textured costumes were very exciting.

Munkustrap, who In some ways acts as the show’s narrator, was excellently portrayed by the lean, lithe Noah Gill Mullins, 

Simon Price (yes, the Red Wiggle) is in excellent form as enchanting Old Deuteronomy, leader of the Jellicle cats, and showcases a fabulous voice.

Josh Ridge as the charismatic, ultra sexy Rum Tum Tugger, has glorious fun prowling and hogging the stage and making all his teen cat followers swoon and scream.  (I was pleased that this version returned to the old ‘standard’ version of his song and not the rap version that was performed in the recent version of Cats at the Capitol.

Skimbleshanks, the fussy Railway Cat, was delightfully portrayed by Daniel WIjngaarden.

The Cockney thieving team of Rumpleteazer and Mungojerrie was enchantingly portrayed by Laura Bunting and Jamie Smith in an acrobatic semi musical act.

Our Grizabella, in tattered purple satin, a red gash for a mouth and streaked eyes, was given a striking, poignant performance by Harmony Lovegrove. Her signature song Memory was sung  wistfully and brought the house down.

The Puccini tribute,  Growltiger’s Last Stand, was thrillingly performed,  and Growltiger, with his piratical eye patch, was wonderfully played by Cameron Barjaktarevic- Hayward.

The enchanting minx Griddlebonee was delightfully played by Kirralee Elliott (Is she as innocent and lovely as she seems, or is she in fact in league with Growltiger’s enemies?).

The battle of the Pekes and The Pollicles was much fun, as was Jennyanydots’ Beetle Tattoo as led by Lana Domeney.

Magical Mister Mistoffelees,  with his starry, spangly black jacket, was terrifically played by Noah Godsell.

The sultry trio of Jellylorm, (Katia van Hilten), Demeter(Giorgia Kennedy) and Bomburalina (Chloe Malek) was splendid, especially in the hot jazz/torch song number, the breathless Macavity (purr).

Overall, a splendid, delightful version that captivates and enchants.

Running time two hours thirty minutes including one interval.

CATS is playing at the Concourse at Chatswood till the 28th January 2017.

 

BIRDIE PRODUCTIONS PRESENT SEUSSICAL @ BRYAN BROWN THEATRE BANKSTOWN

 

Birdie Productions - Seussical - Grant Leslie Photography

Above image :  Sam Moran and Bella Thomas as The Cat in the Hat and Jojo. Featured image- Ensemble members from Birdie Productions. Production photography by Grant Leslie Photography.

Birdie Productions brings professional talent and performers from open auditions to South West Sydney in this excitingly refreshed version of SEUSSICAL. The resulting ensemble is a cast with immense energy, range of experience and an attractive skill set. The depicted Seuss characters as assembled in the musical by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Aherns here showcase Dr Seuss’ genius whilst preserving his keen commentary on good and bad behaviour.

The audience follows Horton the Elephant’s quest to survive mockery, help friends and save the small inhabitants of Whoville as they drift to possible peril on a speck of dust. A scrim at the start of the musical confronts the audience with a quote which motivates us to accept the responsibility to help others. Newspaper clippings about children in detention then appear, providing a sobering reminder about need in our contemporary life. Continue reading BIRDIE PRODUCTIONS PRESENT SEUSSICAL @ BRYAN BROWN THEATRE BANKSTOWN

SETH DRURY’S ‘BRING BACK THE BARITONE’ @ CIVIC THEATRE, NEWCASTLE

 

Drury-second

My eldest daughter’s first word was ‘Don’t’.

I was changing her nappy and happily singing away when this little emphatic one syllable contraction was directed at me. I ignored it, thinking that couldn’t be an intentional word, let alone the very first proper one coming out of my little Cabbage Patch look alike child and continued to sing as I pinned – we used cloth nappies back then.

When she repeated the word, looking straight at me I was certain; even my 6 month-old was telling me; I am vocally challenged, meaning I can’t sing very well at all.

Apart from the recognition that ‘Don’t’ was a word I must have used regularly with her, my now 29year old daughter is still blunt and forthcoming, but that is another story.

Being vocally challenged means I totally appreciate anyone who can sing and someone who takes me on an instructional theatrical journey about singers and songs has me hooked from the start, particularly when said very talented singer expresses an insecurity about their voice from the get go and had been told by his high school choir master to be an accountant!

Seth Drury is a baritone. Apparently no one cares about the workhorse baritones of the singing world while the tenors get all the glory.  He learnt he was a baritone when asked to sing “Tonight, Tonight” a tone higher and cracked on the final high note.

Fortunately, Seth ignored his high school teacher and as for being a baritone he is in good company with others like Hugh Jackman, Michael Buble, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole and Sammy Davis Jnr to name a few.

BRING BACK THE BARITONE is a self devised work with Seth, accompanied by his brother Anyerin Drury on guitar and backing vocals and Callum Close on keyboard, taking us through a bit of a history of the baritone, peppering the narrative with extracts from and complete songs. It’s fun and informative.

For example, I learnt that The Golden Age of Broadway was when the baritone was celebrated and he won the ladies hearts. Gilbert and Sullivan and Rogers and Hammerstein made good use of the baritone and one of the greatest baritone anthems is Old man River from Showboat.

The 60’s and Frankie Valle was the nemesis of the baritone, but Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash, both deep lovers of gospel, kept the flag flying.

He continues his 65 minute tour up to the present, alternating between humour and caricature and deep, soulful engagement with the songs. Seth’s stripped back and pure rendition of How Great Thou Art is beautiful.

He also establishes an easy relationship with the audience and welcomes us into his journey. It is a very pleasant, informative and entertaining interlude.

Future performances of BRING BACK THE BARITONE are yet to be scheduled but Seth’s other work, UNMASKING PRINCE CHARMING will be presented as part of The Sydney Fringe 15th-17th of Sept at The Knox Street Bar. Tickets  may be booked through the fringe website.

As for my musical prowess, I am now learning piano. I have no talent for that either, but just because you are no good at something doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it a go.

Seth Drury’s concert BRING BACK THE BARITONE played the Civic Theatre, Newcastle on Sunday 29th May, 2016.

 

SPACE CATS @ OLD 505 THEATRE

Space Cat- secondMeow Earthlings.

The Old 505 Theatre has been invaded by the Space Cats! This wickedly delightful, joyously subversive musical is cheekily puuurrrfect and is playing as part of this years’ Mardi Gras festival.

This show can  best be described as a sort of spoof of B- Grade sci – fi horror movies blended with off-the–planet musicals such as Little Shop of Horrors and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and is played out in a spitfire yet elegant way.

Leika the first canine in space- here reimagined as a male- somehow crash lands on Cat Mars which is ruled by a mad, imperious Cat Queen (an exiled Egyptian cat goddess) who has three rather unwilling subjects– her slaves Bruno and Mars and Bin Cat who is in prison awaiting execution. Continue reading SPACE CATS @ OLD 505 THEATRE

Jetpack Spontaneous Theatre Festival @ Old 505 Theatre

The Jetpack Theatre Collective is marking the end of another year of great improvised comedy with its  own spontaneous theatre Festival.

Each night during the short season the Company will present a return of its popular On The Spot Musical show as well as a special guest/celebrity show.

On the Spot Musical was a hit last year at the Hayes Theatre. Bryce Halliday, Jim Fishwick and their cast of improvisers come together to present the next great Australian musical.   Continue reading Jetpack Spontaneous Theatre Festival @ Old 505 Theatre

M.U.S.E PRESENTS THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA @ REGINALD THEATRE SEYMOUR CENTRE

Phoebe Clark and Gavin Brown as lovers Clara and Fabrizio
Phoebe Clark and Gavin Brown as lovers Clara and Fabrizio

THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA, playing a short season at the Reginald is … well … bellissima! The cast of students from the Sydney Uni Musical Theatre Ensemble (MUSE), a fine Company now in its 13th year of theatre making, have really done their home work to make an entertaining, ultimately satisfying night at the theatre. There are couple of great central performances, some fine ensemble work, an excellent orchestra and an evident depth of enjoyment in presenting this unique and unusual musical.

We meet American Clara Johnson who is a grand tour of Italy with her mother Margaret. In a piazza in Florence in the 1950’s, Clara’s hat is whisked off her head by an errant breeze. It lands at the feet of Fabrizio Naccarelli and as he returns it, a silent bond is formed, and from  then on these two Innamorato (Italian for sweethearts) become the focus of the play. Continue reading M.U.S.E PRESENTS THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA @ REGINALD THEATRE SEYMOUR CENTRE

Wicked

Lucy Durack and Jemma Rix (c) Jeff Busby
Lucy Durack and Jemma Rix (c) Jeff Busby

WICKED is a prequel to The Wizard Of Oz and the plot unfolds in the years leading to Dorothy’s arrival. It is the tale of two unlikely friends: Glinda the Good, a role reprised by the outstanding Lucy Durack, and Elphaba, the future Wicked Witch of the West, played by the exceptional Jemma Rix.  They form a bond in College which leads to different destinies. Glinda is popular and beautiful while misunderstood Elphaba was “born different”, that is, she is green. One friend is seduced by power whilst the other remains true to herself.

The musical begins with the citizens of Oz celebrating the death of the Wicked Witch as Glinda arrives. The remainder of the plot forms an extended flashback of the lives of the two women. Continue reading Wicked

THE DROWSY CHAPERONE

2nd Image
(left to right) Anna Freeland, Steven Kreamer, Hilary Cole, Rick Woodhouse and Emma Copperthwaite. Pic Michael Francis

Sheer theatrical delight , this is a superb production of this rarely seen show.

I saw the brilliant London version ( it’s also been on Broadway ) and it has been performed in Melbourne with Geoffrey Rush as Man in Chair , but so far as I am aware Sydney has not had a chance to be enchanted by it previously .

Under the scintillating direction of Jay James-Moody , the superb ensemble glows .With its clever staging and terrific cast the production sparkles and delights. With its infectious rhythms , all-singing, all-dancing superb cast wonderful Squabbalogic have done it again !.

For musical theatre fans it is witty distillation of history and an analysis of theatre itself.  The show is a loving parody of 1920’s musicals purporting to be a record of a November 1928 musical that comes alive in the’ Man in Chair’s enthusiastic imagination. Continue reading THE DROWSY CHAPERONE